ZOMATO, the online site for restaurants, recently embarked on a food crawl at Westgate Alabang, which is a dining and lifestyle destination South of the metro. Westgate, which is owned and operated by Filinvest, is one of Zomato’s partners and, being a haven for foodies, is made up of several restaurants featuring different cuisines, such as Spanish, Japanese, American and Korean.
The food crawl covered six restaurants—Sushi Ninja, Melo’s, The Sapphire Lounge, Butamaru, Neil’s Kitchen and Detoxify Bar.
Sushi Ninja, as its name suggests, is an intimate Japanese restaurant that serves basically sushis and other rolls. Its owner went to a sushi academy and specialized in that. The two-year-old restaurant also serves other Japanese favorites. For the food crawl, which included Zomato officials and some media friends, Sushi Ninja prepared Pucela Maki, a modern roll with ham, cream cheese, Gouda cheese, garlic mayonnaise and tomato; as well as Sukiyaki, a nabemono-style hot pot dish usually served during winter in Japan.
Melo’s, which was established by Melo Santiago in 1988, was the second stop. It used to serve only Certified Angus Beef (CAB) but now that Wagyu beef has become popular, the premier steakhouse now also serves Wagyu steaks. It has chosen to serve Australian Wagyu, though, because Japanese Wagyu is too marbled for the Santiago family’s comfort. It served Foie Gras Balsamico for the Zomato food crawl, which had a piece of crunchy potato croquette under a piece of perfectly seared foie gras, served with raisin and onion marmalade and balsamic reduction.
Third stop was The Sapphire Lounge, a bar lounge that serves a good selection of tapas with its signature cocktails, wines and spirits, with a strong focus on whiskeys. Its owner, Brian Reynolds, opened The Sapphire Lounge three years ago, He had lived in Alabang for 15 years when he was younger because his father used to be assigned there, so when he got the chance to open a restaurant-bar of his own, he opened The Sapphire Lounge at Westgate. One of the place’s signature tapas is Spicy Fried Chorizo with Tomato and Onion Sauce, which Brian had everyone taste during the food crawl.
Butamaru was the fourth destination. Westgate’s answer to the ramen craze, Butamaru is not a franchise but an original brand put together by youthful entrepreneur Jerome Lim. Lim went to Japan for training on how to make the famous ramen soup but says that the pork (*buta means pork and maru means round) is his original recipe. The broth, which is the base of the soup dish, is boiled for 16 hours, according to how Master Artisan Sugimura-san of Menko noodle company in Oita, Japan, does it, although Lim has adjusted it to satisfy the Filipino palate.
Butamaru’s best-sellers are Shio Ramen (salt-based), Shoyu Ramen (soy sauce based tonkotsu), and Curry Tantanmen (spicy peanut and sesame). For the food crawl, Lim gave participants a taste of Shio Ramen with Toriten (tempura style fried chicken famous in the Oita Prefecture in Japan) and Cheese Gyoza (cheese dumplings).
Neil’s Kitchen, the fifth stop, was a revelation. A Pinoy restaurant owned by Chef Neil Ramos, it opened in January 2015 but the place has been Chef Neil’s commissary for years. Now that it is a restaurant, it serves Filipino favorites given a new twist. Take the Sinigang Trilogy which the Zomato group got to sample. It consists of three variations of sinigang—Sinigang Paella with Grilled Pork Belly (sinigang cooked from scratch, then rice cooked in the sinigang broth and the pork from the sinigang grilled); Sinigang Noodle Soup (deconstruction of all sinigang ingredients in a soup, with the usual rice replaced by flat rice noodles; the pork rolled, tied and cooked for hours then grilled when ordered); and Sinigang Salmon sa Miso (with salmon instead of bangus, cooked into sinigang na salmon sa miso from scratch, and the salmon grilled).
Apt as the sixth and last stop was Detoxify Bar, which serves light and healthy meals, smoothies, juices and other concoctions. With the first store opened in 2012 because certain members of the Torres family (owners of Detoxify Bar) required a special diet, Detoxify Bar served Greek Yogurt Smoothie Bowls Topped with Fresh Berries, Nuts and Oats for the food crawl.
Zomato’s dining event turned out to be a well-rounded one that gave everyone a good taste of different cuisines and flavors available in Westgate Alabang.
(*This article was first published in Business Mirror’s Cook & Dine section in the June 11, 2016 issue. Photos by Rafael R. Zulueta.)